An Italian appeals court acquitted Giuseppe Orsi, the former president of defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica, on Monday, 8 January, over charges of alleged bribes paid in exchange for a Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper deal to sell 12 AgustaWestland helicopters to the Indian government.
Milan's third court of appeal also acquitted Bruno Spagnolini, former CEO of the company's helicopters subsidiary AgustaWestland, who had also been handed a four-year jail term on the same charges, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Orsi was arrested in 2014 and resigned as chief executive of Finmeccanica which was later renamed as Leonardo.
He was at the helm of AgustaWestland when the deal was struck and was suspected of involvement in the payment of bribes.
Responding to the acquittal, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said:
Italian authorities can appeal against the acquittal Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini in the Supreme Court of Italy. Our investigation is independent and we have a strong case against both of them. This acquittal will have no impact on our case.CBI
Orsi had been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for false accounting and corruption.
The case against Orsi and Spagnolini resulted from an investigation launched in 2012 into the sale of 12 luxury helicopters to India.
The two were accused of international corruption and false invoicing in relation to bribes exchanged for the contract with India.
Both were cleared on charges of committing international corruption at the first-instance trial in 2014 but were convicted of false invoicing and sentenced to two years in prison.
In Italy, criminal sentences are not usually considered definitive until the appeals process has been exhausted.
Both appealed against the conviction, while the prosecution appealed against the acquittal on the corruption charge.
In December 2016, the Supreme Court of Cassation ordered a repeat of the appeals trial.
India had scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica's British subsidiary AgustaWestland in January 2014 for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of kickbacks paid by the firm for securing the deal.
India’s Defence Ministry had ordered a CBI probe into allegations of kickbacks to the tune of Rs 362 crore after the arrest of Orsi and Spagnolini by Italian investigators in connection with the case.
In 2010, India had inked the deal to acquire 12 three-engine AW-101 helicopters from AgustaWestland for VVIP use.
In view of the corruption charges, India also barred Finmeccanica and its group companies from participating in any new programme of the Defence Ministry.
The CBI in September last year charge-sheeted former IAF Chief SP Tyagi in a Delhi court along with nine others for bribery in the case.
They were charge-sheeted for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the IPC in the case relating to alleged bribery of Rs 450 crore.
The CBI alleged there was an estimated loss of 398.21 million euros (approximately Rs 2,666 crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on 8 February 2010, for the supply of VVIP choppers worth 556.262 million euros.
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